Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 9-10 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 7)

Ezra 9 – Ezra, continuing his first person account, which was begun in chapter 8, says that officials approached him to tell him that the people of the land have not held themselves separate from the pagan people—the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzies, Jebusties, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They “have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons” (9:2). Ezra says, “When I heard this, I tore my garment and my mantel, and pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat appalled” (9:3). Others tremble with him.
At the evening sacrifice, he kneels down, throwing his arms up to pray: “O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities, we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord or God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem” (9:6-8).

In return they have forsaken the Lord’s commandments. The land is polluted with the abominations these pagan people have engaged in. “O Lord, God of Israel, you are just, but we have escaped as a remnant, as is now the case. Here we are before you in our guilt, though no one can face you because of this” (9:15). The Jerusalem Bible note says intermarriage was not forbidden in ancient Israel, but Deuteronomy forbids it to combat idolatry—having witnessed the problems brought on by such marriages as Ahab’s. The threat of pollution and dissolution was great after the return because most of the returnees were men.

Ezra 10 – The people are moved by Ezra’s sermon. Shecaniah, one of the men addresses Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the people of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel for my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let is be done according to the law” (10:2-3). They all rise and swear to do this.

Ezra spends the night in continuing fasting, “mourning the faithlessness of the exiles” (10:6).

They make a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all that they should assemble on penalty of losing all their property and being banned from the community. All the people of Judah and Benjamin gather in the open square, “trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain” (10:9). Ezra gets up and asks them to make confession, to separate themselves from the “people of the land and from the foreign wives.” They all agree, but they make a plan to pursue it over a period of time. A committee goes through all the men who were found to have foreign wives. The ones who were priests or Levites are listed; the others are also listed through to the end of the chapter. All the wives are sent away with their children.

“Friends and Scripture”
Introduction: This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day.

Part 7
The “ministration of Moses” is what the soul enters into next.  It is the time of crying out to God, of being led out of the “world” (i.e. Egypt, the flesh, bondage, death) and into a wilderness where we learn to discern what must be left behind and what must be clung to.  In this ministration, we also come to see our transgressions through what Fox calls “the pure law of God,” a law which he believed was written on the heart because Christ had brought that new covenant into being. This law is not to be done away with but clung to and obeyed; the time of trial and judgment under it must be endured. 

In Fox’s story, the ministration of Moses begins when he heads out to look for some wiser, more knowledgeable Christian who can help him discover why he is caught in the dilemma of not being able to possess what he professes. As he enters this ministration he is brought into a greater sense of clarity concerning the things God loves and the things He condemns. 

The earliest stages of this ministration might well have been called the ministration of Abraham, for it is really an Abraham-like break from the past that he must first pass through to enter the wilderness God has in mind for him. Like Abraham, Fox is called away from his “ancestral home,” called to “[leave] all the religions and worships and teachers [of the world] behind. . .and follow . . .the Lord” (Fox’s Letters 411). Fox clearly sees what he is leaving behind as the traditional (mistaken) ways his ancestors have practiced Christianity. 

Propelled by distress but also by faith in God’s promises, Fox roams the countryside looking for someone to help him. There is a great sense of the darkness that threatens him everywhere within and without.  He thirsts for the reality of God’s presence, but he also struggles with the thirst he has for human comforts and human answers -- just as the people of God thirsted as they wandered forty years in the desert.  Like them he too still believes that some human power might save him, but human beings disappoint every time.  The entire essence of the ministration of Moses is to bring the seeker “off the world” and off of the world’s wisdom and strength to rely wholly upon the Lord, to learn the law God has inscribed on the heart and to learn what can stand in His presence and what must be left behind.

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